We can slow down the effects of climate change, if we want toby Sameer Rahim / April 3, 2019 / Leave a comment
Cyclone Idai, which has just devastated the coastal city of Beira in Mozambique, is only the latest extreme weather event we have seen in recent years. According to David Wallace-Wells in his gripping new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, it is the kind of disaster that will become all too common as the Earth continues to warm at an alarming rate. Climate change has been described as a “hyperobject”—an idea so large and complex that it’s impossible to mentally get to grips with it. Which is why, I suspect, some commentators retreat into denial or simply shrug their shoulders fatalistically.
Wallace-Wells shocks us out of complacency. In the first half of his book, he lays out what will happen if we do nothing to stop carbon emissions. The planet will warm by 3.2 degrees; Miami, Dhaka, Shanghai and Hong Kong will flood, plus 100 other cities; the world economy will lose cumulatively $551tn; wars will break out over access to freshwater; millions will die due to heat waves, floods, wildfires and pollution; drought will fuel political extremism, as it did with Islamic State. All this conceivably within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children’s. As the author writes, “the facts are hysterical.”
Perhaps inevitably, the rhetorical punch softens in the book’s second half where Wallace-Wells looks at potential solutions. “Should anything save us,” he writes, “it will be technology.” Artificially cooling the atmosphere through geo-engineering is one possibility—but will we be able to cooperate globally or will we leave it to the “climate authoritarianism” of China? More prosaic but equally necessary are carbon taxes, phasing out dirty energy and a shift away from beef and milk in our diets.
Put like that, avoiding the apocalypse sounds possible; all we lack is the political will. The first step, as this book describes powerfully, is recognising climate change as the most urgent problem facing our age.
The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells (Allen Lane, £20)